By Joel Webster

When Governor Schweitzer first introduced the Montana roadless area recommendation process late in the summer of ‘05, he approached the debate in way that set aside philosophy and theology and attempted to get to the heart of the issue.   The question asked of Montana’s county commissioners, was: “whether or not any new federal roads are needed in their county on existing roadless national forest lands”  

Governor Schweitzer addressed the reality of a $558 million road maintenance backlog on the current 32,000 miles of Forest Service roads in Montana and asked that if new roads are to be recommended, they pencil out fiscally and environmentally in both the short and long-term.  Specifically, in a letter written to all of Montana's county commissioners on October 26, 2005, Governor Schweitzer wrote:

"For those who choose to submit a new road recommendation, I ask that it be specific in nature.  The rationale for any new road proposal should be objective, and begin with a clear statement of need.  Each proposal should include a thorough analysis of the expected environmental impacts, the projected cost of building and maintaining the road, who will bear those costs, and an accounting of community support."

By focusing on specific new roads, Governor Schweitzer opened the debate to legitimate new road proposals.  Following the logic that there’s no reason to plan an exotic vacation when you can’t afford the daily commute to work- Governor Schweitzer wanted to hear proposals from commissioners that make financial sense. 

He hasn’t received any. 

While nearly all county recommendations have suggested that it doesn’t make sense to build new roads with YOUR precious tax dollars. All agree that keeping the backcountry roadless is at the very least, a pragmatic and fiscally responsible choice.

Additionally, many counties have reinforced the need to protect their communities from wildfires in their recommendations. Governor Schweitzer has continuously expressed that he plans to provide communities with the ability to reduce forest fuel accumulation “to protect homes and municipal drinking water sources, especially in urban interface areas.” This common sense approach to protecting the health and safety of people and their communities in the interface has been a part of backcountry roadless management since 2001.

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Gov. Schweitzer's letter to County Commissioners, 10/26/05